Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Are attempts to innovate futile?

Detail from the cover of Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos.

We have a conservative streak when it comes to beer and, these days, find ourselves drawn to weaker, more straightforward beers most of the time. We like the idea of preserving our brewing heritage and believe that there are still pleasing but subtle variations to be found in less showy tinkering with hops, malt, water and yeast.

We can’t, in all honesty, say we’ve loved many self-declared innovative beers — nothing barrel-aged, for example, has made our list of favourites; our mouths do now not water at the idea of an Islay lambic; and we’re nonplussed by the very idea of black IPA.

We also roll our eyes at brewers who describe themselves as innovative and then… aren’t. They’re like pop groups who say their sound ‘defies categorisation’ while producing middle-of-the-road indie music.

Having said all of that, we’re delighted that there are people still trying genuinely to innovate, even if the results aren’t always instant classics, and we do believe there are new flavours to be shaken out through experimentation. Garlic brownies, thriller-action wildlife documentaries and heavy metal baroque virginals all sound like worthwhile experiments to us, though we wouldn’t want a diet of nothing but.

The only way to break new ground is through failed experiments and doing things that most people won’t like.

Various posts and comments this week have led us to pondering this subject. Here’s Zak Avery on ‘wacky’ beers as part of a balanced diet; Velky Al at Fuggled on his preference for beer that tastes of beer with an interesting comment from Ron Pattinson; and Knut Albert on two beers he thinks prove the point that there are new things to be discovered.

8 replies on “Are attempts to innovate futile?”

The idea of an Islay Lambic filled me with horror. I then followed the link and saw it was another Revelation Cat production. I hesitate to criticise anything I’ve not tried but if it’s anything like the other messing about with lambic that RC does then it could well be quite disgusting (their (in)famous dry hopped lambics at both GBBF and Borefts a couple of years back were unutterably vile).

(Just corrected a typo — the worst kind that changes the sense of the sentence — in the Islay lambic paragraph.)

Re: their dry-hopped lambics — is it a flawed idea or did poor execution render it vile?

That’s a moot point. General consensus was that they had taken perfectly good lambics and ruined them. Not quite sure how you would execute dry hopping so poorly to produce the terrible beers that resulted, so I will stick my neck out and say the concept is at fault.

On the Islay cask issue. one or two cider makers have tried putting their products in them and the ones I have tried so far have been a terrible mess. If master cider makers like Kevin Minchew can’t pull it off (and he couldn’t in the opinion of those who tried it) then again I think we have to look at the concept rather then the execution.

It doesnt surprise me that a dry ho[[ed lambic didnt work. It flys in the face of the whole way beer is ballanced. Lambic beers use acidity to ballance what malt character and body they have , adding more hops seems doomed to push the ballance off the edge and into the deep.

Everything that is considered classic and traditional today, might have been seen as innovative and groundbreaking at some point. Some of the things that are considered innovative and groundbreaking today might be seen as classic and traditional some time in the future. (not to mention that, if you’ve read your history, many, if not most of the things touted as innovative and groundbreaking were kind of normal in the past)

I had an old beer tonight. It was very nice and traditional. Not a groundbreaking revelation, but it was better than a certain brewery’s apple fruit ale by a million miles…

I also had a Black IPA from Yorkshire. It was excellent. Not a grounbreaking revelation but it was better than a certain brewery’s widely available English themed ale by a million miles….

Keep drinking both and Bob’s your Aunty I reckon. When you start worrying that something is too groundbreaking or isn’t groundbreaking enough you start forgetting to like beer.

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